We take a look at the classic 4x4 – not the first but probably the most famous.
Spearheaded by Charles Spencer King and launched in 1970, the original Range Rover continues to influence the motoring world today. It was intended as a utility vehicle back then, with vinyl seats and rubber mats – the wood ‘n’ leather luxury was to come later. It wasn’t until 1981 that a four-door became available, while power was supplied by a 135bhp version of the Buick-derived 3.5-litre V8. Lucas fuel injection improved efficiency and economy in 1984, upping power to 155bhp, and an enlarged 3.9-litre version of the same engine appeared in 1990. Diesel power came courtesy of a more economical but sluggish 2.4-litre VM unit in 1988.
Comfortable and hugely capable off-road, the Range Rover showed that mud-plugging ability didn’t have to come at the expense of refinement. The association with the British monarchy over the years did nothing to harm its image either.
Range Rover V8, 1972
Power (bhp@rpm) 135bhp@4750rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 185lb ft@2500rpm
Top speed 90mph
Gearbox 4-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
Despite having some aluminium panels, rot is still a major factor on older Range Rovers and is the one issue where you don’t want to take any chances. Areas that demand careful checking include the sills, floorpan, rear chassis member, inner front wings and front bulkhead. Extensive rust in these areas is very costly to put right and not always easy to spot. The most obvious sign of rot tends to be the tailgate and there is a brisk trade in used replacements. Don’t ignore the upper tailgate frame either – a new Land Rover part is pricey, though an aluminium frame kit can be bought for around £200. You can also expect some electrolytic corrosion on those alloy panels, but yawning gaps between panels is par for the course. The availability of replacement parts is good.
The good news is that the ubiquitous 3.5-litre unit was fundamentally strong and any mechanic worth their salt can repair them. Not so good is the propensity for overheating, which leads to cracked cylinderheads and head gasket failure, so keep a close eye on the temperature gauge on the test drive. Oil leaks are another bugbear, with the front crank seal being a weak point. However, blockage of the flame traps located on the rocker covers can pressurise the crankcase, forcing oil from the breather pipe. It’s worth checking here first before assuming oil is escaping elsewhere. Using the incorrect oil can accelerate wear of the camshaft and followers, while using an oil additive will improve the longevity of early engines. The serious fuel-thirst also prompted many owners to opt for an LPG conversion, so ask to see the relevant certificates. These engines also appreciate regular oil changes so make sure the previous owner hasn’t skimped on basic maintenance.
Both manual and automatic transmissions last well as long as they haven’t been abused. Excessive noise or clunks from the driveline could point to problems with the transfer box or differentials, and replacing either is costly. Oil leaks from just about any part of the transmission system are a regular occurrence, so take a good look underneath (experts will check for tell-tale puddles as soon as they approach a car). Also look for any signs of off-road damage to the chassis or suspension components – these can take a battering over time and are a good indicator of a car’s past life. A wallowing ride means springs and dampers are past their best, while vague steering and a tendency to wander on the road can be caused by worn suspension bushes – those in the rear trailing arms and front radius arms are common culprits, but replacement costs are reasonable. Power steering fluid leaks are worth checking, though the earliest cars did without power assistance turning any drive into a real muscle-building experience.
The interiors of early models were pretty basic and replacement parts are getting scarce – a complete re-trim is often more cost effective than trying to renew parts. However, it wasn’t long before some luxury was added to the 4x4 mix, with the later and very popular Vogue trim being a feast of wood, leather, and electric motors. Overall quality was below par, though, so it takes careful checking to make sure that everything works as it should. A sagging headlining is a common problem and something of
a nightmare to replace, while weak door seals will lead to a damp and musty cabin.
The phrase ‘timeless classic’ is something of a cliché, but it certainly applies to the Range Rover. Few vehicles have managed to marry style and ability with such ease, and despite the explosion of imitators, they remain at the top of the 4x4 pile. The usual BL quality troubles means finding a good one isn’t easy but there is a wealth of specialist expertise out there to help you. Many have been smitten by that imperious driving position – try it for yourself and you won’t be disappointed.